By Rob Rains
Before the Cardinals set up their spring training camp in Jupiter, Fla., more than a month ago, we took a look at 10 of the most important Cardinals to watch during the spring.
Now that there are only a few days left before the team leaves Florida and begins their final preparations for the start of the regular season, it’s time to check back and see how those 10 fared this spring.
The results are mixed. Here was our list, in alphabetical order:
Jeff Albert – Fans who wanted to see an instant impact from the Cardinals’ new hitting coach likely were disappointed by the team’s offensive showing for most of the spring. Manager Mike Shildt has talked about the changes Albert is trying to make in the team’s hitting approach, looking for more contact, and how that is a process of “building the boxes.” Albert preaches pitch recognition and plate discipline, and time will tell if the Cardinals can find success in those areas.
Genesis Cabrera – The Cardinals were eager to see the 22-year-old left-hander, one of the players acquired in the Tommy Pham deal with Tampa last summer, but his spring outings were a disappointment, especially considering how well he pitched over the winter in the Dominican Republic. Cabrera is still considered a top prospect, but he showed this spring he might not be ready for the major leagues as quickly as some had hoped or expected.
Brett Cecil – Despite coming to camp in great physical shape after losing 40 pounds over the winter and in a good spot mentally, it was another disappointing spring for Cecil. The left-handed reliever’s mechanics were out of sync, perhaps because of the weight loss, and he struggled to throw strikes. He will open the season on the injured list, and when, or if, he will pitch again for the Cardinals is anybody’s guess.
Dexter Fowler – It was a good spring for Fowler, who seemed to be happier and more engaged in the clubhouse than he was a year ago. On the field he likely still did not have the results he would have liked for much of the spring before hitting two home runs on Thursday. The Cardinals remain optimistic that he will perform closer to his 2017 season than how he played a year ago. Fowler will be pushed for playing time by Tyler O’Neill and Jose Martinez, and he will have to perform to stay in the lineup on a regular basis.
Paul Goldschmidt – It also was a good spring for Goldschmidt, who seemed to make quick connections with his teammates and coaches as he had the results everyone is expecting throughout the season. Goldschmidt said he was happy about all aspects of his move to the Cardinals thus far, which apparently convinced him not to delay a decision about his long-term future even before he played a regular-season game with the team. Multiple media reports on Thursday said the Cardinals were working toward finalizing a five-year contract extension for Goldschmidt worth about $130 million, which would be the largest contract in franchise history.
Carlos Martinez – The Cardinals never even had a chance to answer the question of whether Martinez should be a starter or reliever this season as he was unable to pitch in the spring because of a weak shoulder. The decision about whether he will be brought along as a reliever or starter won’t be made for a couple more weeks until Martinez is able to get himself ready to pitch in games. Whichever role he is asked to fill, Martinez will need to commit to it and prove that he can stay healthy and perform well or his status as one of the team’s top pitchers could be in jeopardy.
Tyler O’Neill – O’Neill showed again this spring he has a lot of power, but he is still working on eliminating the holes in other aspects of his offense. He likely showed enough, especially with remaining questions about both Fowler and Marcell Ozuna, to earn a spot on the opening day roster but likely won’t be able to secure a regular starting spot until he becomes more consistent offensive and can at least cut down somewhat on his strikeout totals.
Marcell Ozuna – After starting the spring slowly, Ozuna was able to get back into the outfield with a couple of weeks left in the spring and was encouraged about how good his arm and shoulder felt. He was still working on his timing offensively, probably trying to correct bad habits that developed when he was favoring the sore shoulder in the past, and his three hits, including a home run, on Thursday was an encouraging sign. The Cardinals believe that shows he is on a track to make the necessary adjustments in his timing and swing path.
Alex Reyes – The first thing Reyes had to show the Cardinals this spring was that he was healthy, which he did. The move to the bullpen likely makes sense for both Reyes and the team for now, especially considering how well Dakota Hudson did as a starter this spring. The worry putting Reyes in the bullpen will be trying to find a way to let him pitch between 100 and 120 innings this year, which can sometimes be tough for a reliever. He can be a dynamic weapon in that role, however, adding to what some believe will be a formidable group of relievers for the team in the back end of the bullpen.
Mike Shildt – This was a good spring for Shildt, beginning his first full season as the Cardinals’ manager. He has the confidence of his players, who liked how he ran the spring drills and practices, and that positive relationship and communication level should continue to be a positive as the season gets underway. There are little, if any, strategy decisions to make during spring training games, so that area of scrutiny for Shildt won’t really begin until the regular season gets underway.
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Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports